My funny Valentine

Published 5:28 pm Monday, February 12, 2024

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I am on assignment this week taking the history of Washington’s involvement in the Underground Railroad across the state. So, I am re-sharing one of my favorite columns.

Ah, Valentine’s Day, as a kid I liked Valentine’s Day for one reason alone- candy! My mom received a big box of Whitman’s Samplers Chocolates every year. I would go to Tayloe’s Drug Store and Welch’s Drug the week before Valentine’s Day to see just how big the candy boxes of chocolates could be. I always hoped my mom would get a really big one and she did.

When we came home from school on Valentine’s Day, there the candy box sat on the living room sofa in all of its glory, tightly wrapped in cellophane which meant there was no way it was going to be opened until she opened it. My favorite was the chocolate covered cherries. She would give my sisters and I the opportunity to pick out one piece after dinner, so we would study the little chart of the bottom of the box so we could see what piece we wanted. Not me, I already knew the shape of the chocolate covered cherries, so I went right in to retrieve my favorite.

As I got older, my sixth-grade friends and I made paper valentines to give to the boys we liked in school. In return, we hoped to get a box of the little “Sweethearts” made by a company named Necco. They were small candy valentines with sayings imprinted on them like ‘Be Mine’ or ‘Kiss Me’ among other sayings. Then you could cut the back of the box off and use it for a Valentine card.

Well, all I ever got from one boy that I was madly in love with was a pack of Now and Later candy as a valentine. That was okay because he never knew I was madly in love with him. I was so in love (and what would I know about love at age 11?) that I decided Valentine’s Day after school, I would follow him home, stand in front of his house and tell him he was the man of my dreams. Sounded like a good plan. He would be so surprised by my declaration of love that he would ask me some day to marry him and then as I planned it, he would buy me a big box of Whitman Samplers every year for Valentine’s Day. With that thought in mine, I started following him about half a block away from him as I practiced what I would say. I lived six blocks from school, but he lived in an area of town called ‘Old Field.’ near where Veteran’s Park is today. I had never been in that area of town before. That was a long walk! On the way, I got chased by a dog and ran down a street that I wasn’t familiar with. When I got back on Third Street again, the man of my dreams was gone. I didn’t know where he lived, and I was hopelessly lost. I tried to retrace my steps but to no avail.

I was broken hearted, lost, and the man of my dreams was nowhere in sight. But thankfully, my best friend Sadie Gibbs turned a corner walking home from school and asked me what I was doing in Old Field. Trying to regain my dignity I told her I was trying to find her house. She walked me back to the Colonial Store (a big grocery store that was at Third and Market Streets) and then I knew where I was and went on home. After dinner, mama offered us a piece of candy from her Whitman’s Sampler. I picked out my favorite but that time it just didn’t seem as good.

I never did tell my love interest that I had followed him home on Valentine’s Day but whenever I see him today, I have a little laugh to myself. (Check out the 1937 Broadway play ‘Babes in Arms’ to learn about the origin of Rodger’s and Hart’s song ‘My Funny Valentine.’)

This Valentine’s Day, show some love to people. A smile, a kind gesture, a simple “good morning” might bring a smile to a heart that needs it. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-curator of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.